THE SIMPSONS MOVIE

PG-13

-By Kevin Lally


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Even if Homer Simpson calls everyone a “giant sucker” for paying good money to watch something they can get free at home, “The Simpsons” is a natural for the big, wide screen. After 18 remarkable seasons, this TV comedy classic has amassed such a huge cast of indelible characters, it’s a wonder your living-room monitor can contain them all. The Simpsons Movie gives the demented denizens of Springfield USA room to breathe, fulminate, and form vigilante mobs as far as the eye can see. And with the uncannily thickheaded Homer at his thickest, mob hysteria is always just around the corner.

No one should go expecting the Best Episode Ever, just a smart and consistently funny extended storyline worthy of the series’ legacy, with some added CGI effects for the broader movie canvas. The screenplay represents a happy reunion of many of the early years’ core talents: “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, Al Jean, Ian Maxstone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, John Swartzwelder and Jon Vitti. (The busy Brad Bird and Conan O’Brien are among the missing.)

It all gets off to a hilarious start with the show’s cartoon-within-a-cartoon, bloodthirsty cat-and-mouse nemeses Itchy and Scratchy, quickly followed by the “Simpsons” theme as performed by Green Day, in an environmental rock-concert sequence that devolves into a homage to Titanic.

True to the ongoing concerns of the prescient Lisa Simpson, the environment plays a key role in the movie, as Homer’s devotion to his new pet pig (which is more amusing than it sounds) leads to a pollution catastrophe at Lake Springfield. President Arnold Schwarzenegger, under the advice of ruthless Environmental Protection Agency chief Russ Cargill (guest voice Albert Brooks), takes drastic action, sealing the entire town under a giant, impenetrable dome. Enraged Springfielders storm the Simpson household, but thanks to baby Maggie, the family finds an escape route and relocates to Alaska, in the spirit of the series’ annual trips to the far corners of the world. (Alaska, in Homer’s optimistic view, is “a place where you can’t be too fat or too drunk.”) But the diabolical Cargill isn’t through yet, and the Simpsons get one last chance to save the town that, frankly, has never been particularly kind to them.

As in any episode of the show, the narrative is festooned with all manner of sight gags, comic detours, absurdities and travesties. “For once the rich white man is in control,” craven billionaire Montgomery Burns crows when the town turns to him in desperation. “Why does everything I whip keep leaving?” Homer moans after mistreating a pack of sled dogs. “This book doesn’t have any answers!” Homer complains as he turns to the Bible during a church crisis. But beyond the exxxxcellent jokes, The Simpsons Movie also has a lot of heart. Über-brat Bart bonds with an unexpected Springfield neighbor; Lisa charms the audience while swooning over a young dreamboat from Ireland (a new series regular, perhaps?), and Marge has her finest moment ever as she confesses to finally reaching the end of her tether with her high-maintenance husband.

The protean main voice cast—Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer—are in great form, as they’ve been for close to 20 amazing years. All of Springfield is on hand, but some beloved residents—Krusty the Clown, Principal Skinner, Apu, Barney the drunk—get slighted in their big-screen debuts. And one (deliberately) annoying character will likely never be seen again, except in syndication.

The Simpsons Movie was worth the wait. A sequel may be a long time away, but fans with Homer-sized appetites can take comfort knowing season 19 is in production and this essential TV family shows no signs of stopping.


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